Ordinary People Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Ordinary People

Conrad tries to recover himself after the death of his younger brother Buck, and his father Calvin tries to reach out to his son. Calvin lives with his parents Calvin and Beth in Illinois, a year after the death of his younger brother Buck in a boating accident. Conrad still hasn't recovered appreciably from his brother's death. He slits his wrists one day and is nearly dead when Calvin discovers him and binds up the bleeding. Conrad is hospitalized and put into therapy. There he befriends a local girl named Karen who is also recovering from a suicide attempt.
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Released from the hospital, Conrad begins to meet with a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, of whom Conrad is skeptical. He keeps going so his father will worry about him less. Back at school, Conrad tries to rejoin his swim team, but doesn't have the desire anymore. Instead he spends swimming practice reading in the library so his parents will think he is still competing. His grades dive and he becomes isolated from even his closest friends. He begins to see Karen again and observes her improvement in contrast to his own depression. He starts dating Jeannine and continues meeting with Dr. Berger. His family life grows increasingly strained. Calvin's relationship with Beth is in the toilet because she won't talk with him like he wants. Calvin wants the whole family to verbalize their hurt and make explicit attempts to move forward together. The stoic Beth doesn't even want to talk to Conrad about his obvious distress, thinking that personal pain has to be dealt with quietly.
Months go by and Conrad goes to a swim team competition with friends, but gets in a fight with one of them when the other boy makes fun of him for his gloominess. He sees a lot of Jeannine in the spring and the two begin dating more seriously, until one day when he is shaken by the sudden news of Karen's suicide. Conrad retreats into himself and begins keeping odd hours and wandering the town at night. He finally has a breakthrough with Dr. Berger where he is able to admit his feelings of guilt for Buck's death. Meanwhile Calvin's relationship with Beth is getting worse. She eventually leaves him, unwilling to communicate directly with him or with Conrad. In her absence, Calvin is able to connect with Conrad more deeply than ever before and the father and son experience personal healing. They decide to move to another town, away from the physical and geographic reminders of their grief.
Best part of story, including ending: It's a very believable story about grief. It's not fancy, but, as the title would suggest, it feels like something that happens every day.

Best scene in story: I like Conrad at the psychiatrist's office. The dialogue is very good here, Conrad dodging the doctor's questions, the doctor observing more than he verbalizes, Conrad feeling cornered and vulnerable.

Opinion about the main character: I like Conrad for his guilelessness. He seems very much like Calvin in this way, unable to live a lie.

The review of this Book prepared by Andrew Black a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

Chapter Analysis of Ordinary People

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   thoughtful Time/era of story    -   1960's-1970's Internal struggle/realization?    -   Yes Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Coping with loss of loved one(s)    -   Yes Loss of...    -   brother/sisters

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   student Age:    -   a teen Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American) Unusual characteristics:    -   Mentally ill


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   3 () United States    -   Yes

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Judith Guest Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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